One of my favorite films that screened at Fantastic Fest in Austin last September was Come To Daddy, the directorial debut of Ant Timpson (best known as the producer of films like Turbo Kid and Housebound). Give the film’s trailer a spin embedded at the top of the article and read the synopsis below.
A privileged man-child arrives at the beautiful and remote coastal cabin of his estranged father, whom he hasn’t seen in 30 years. He quickly discovers that not only is his dad a jerk, he also has a shady past that is rushing to catch up with him.
Come to Daddy stars Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, and Garfield Wilson.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Timpson at Fantastic Fest last September. Give our exclusive conversation a read below.
Dread Central: I remember how you tweeted out one time about how Turbo Kid was the most pirated film of 2016 or something like that. I’ve always been a real proponent of anti-piracy.
Ant Timpson: It felt like that, it felt like we got screwed big time at the time but overall, we’re making the sequel. The sequel hasn’t been held up because of [piracy] but because the guys have been busy. It’s like [there is] an entire generation that doesn’t understand [the effects of piracy] and they don’t care, really. That’s what’s lame.
DC: I’m in my forties and I’ve seen the change. I’m still a collector of physical media and I love paying my twenty bucks to support a film I love and then own it, as opposed to just code.
AT: There was an idea I came up with, an uber tip if you’re watching Amazon, any player form you can tip the filmmaker a dollar. There should be an interface there, it doesn’t affect their revenue stream.
DC: You’re well known for producing some great films and this is your directorial debut. What made you want to get into directing? Did you feel like people were screwing up your films, you were putting money into films and they weren’t coming out the way you were hoping?
AT: That thought there has never passed through my mind because my thought there is finding new talent, really, that’s my whole background. Through the 48 hours thing I do with Peter Jackson in New Zealand it’s all about finding the new talent, watching the pipeline go. When I’ve seen the films I’ve never been like, “Oh, I would have done it like this”. That’s a crazy game to play, like reading a book and saying, “Oh, I wanted that character to do this”. It’s ridiculous. For me, I started off as that crazy, weekend, filmmaker; me and my brother and friends went out and shot like a movie every weekend, so I started off being that kid, making horror movies every weekend. And then I got serious with arty farty black and white 35mm shorts, to get these art grants. I was working towards being a serious filmmaker and then I got sort of derailed man. I got hooked into Film Festivals, which became this huge thing in my life. It just blew up and I got so much energy from it, just being surrounded by friends and doing the thing that we loved most: watching crazy movies together at big old cinema palaces and then introducing this new material to the populace. It’s such a rush and that was a decade that boom, it was gone and I was kind of like still supporting other filmmakers on the side. Basically, I hadn’t changed, I always wanted to be that director but it took my dad dying in front of me to say, “Fuck, life’s short, get trying or get dying.” I think that’s the line.
DC: That’s a good dovetail into my next question. Come to Daddy is based on a story by Toby Harvard; how much of the original concept of the story did you change as the film’s director?
AT: Toby did a shitload. I gave him a skeleton structure of what I wanted the beast to be, and that’s already when it was a low-fi, a kind of film I thought I could just pull favors and shoot the thing. And he just ran with characters, took that, blew it out and expanded the idea. The main ideas with the characters are all Toby’s invention, it was just like archetypes and he just wrote little flavors. We have a process where we just bounce stuff back and forth, and I could never do dialogue as good as Toby, but it’s more about us finding the balance of time. Sometimes he really pushes it, there were nibbles of breeziness in it originally, and I was like it’s going to be a really fine line in this film in terms of the tonal balance, it’s going to be absurd but let’s not point it to cartoonish so that was a process of tweaking everything through it. When I got to the location and sorted through the geography, scans and sending it back saying hey, we’re going to have to shift things and so he was writing live as I was on set and pre-production, more like the scout, and we tweaked it to the exact location. I wasn’t really evolving, it was all there, just fine-tuning.
DC: For me, you’ve got act one, where you think you know what’s going on, there’s this huge act two twist, and then there’s a third act that goes off the rails.
AT: Mine was way more straight horror originally, and then when this came back it was way more in line with, it was a tribute to my dad is what I wanted to do with it, and he was never a horror guy but he was a throwback, dark comedy, gallows humor, so it just worked out that Toby went down that path, so it was kind of beautiful.
DC: It’s a movie about fathers and sons and you mentioned that your father passed recently…
Art: Yeah, so he passed and that kick started the whole thing. At that point the project kicked into gear and there was the whole thing about unfinished business, which is what if your father’s dark history came back into your present, and his unfinished business became your present-day business? So the things that pass on, the sins of the father, all of that, the way we set it up was so on the nose, that’s why we undercut it with humor, because it’s so serious and I hate those sort of quotes at the start of films. So we thought we’d have some fun with that start in.
DC: You know, Elijah Wood was such a great score, not just because of how famous he is for being in Lord of the Rings, but it’s been so fun watching him go from being Frodo to being a real cutting-edge advocate of horror movies. He’s got his own distribution thing going on and he’s got a lot of friends that work with him.
AT: He’s incredible, and that supersedes his desire for acting in a way. That’s his focus: all those sort of Spectrevision projects. I think he loves supporting crazy geniuses like Richard Stanley, or new originals like Jim Hoskins; that’s his vibe. They are doing so many things now: gaming, whatever they can expand into, music… but his love of genre has a pretty wide taste, even though it feels like he’s the horror guy. His taste is pretty eclectic and he’s got a lot of passion and I know him as a mate so we met through here, through Austin, so I’ve known him for a long time and Toby and I were talking and said it would be amazing if Elijah did it, this character. He’s from Los Angeles, he’s a DJ…
DC: That’s what I was going to talk about; it’s such a great skewering of hipster culture the precedes the Elton John bluff, it’s just a Hollywood smoke blower thing that people need to be, that’s something I’ve heard a million times, how much of that was written, how much of that was off the cuff?
AT: No it was all written; it was actually cut down. I remember being on set, it was during the read through, and I remember we cut that whole passage down. And I remember I started thinking, just when I was hearing Elijah actually in the room with McHattie doing it, I was like, “Oh man, if he’s fucking nailing it!” I wanted all that other shit in there because we went through that thing where we were like, “Maybe it’s too on the nose,” but we just chucked it all back in. He’s so good in the film and there was a lot of concern with Elijah because he brings this huge likeability as well and you kind of want him to be that pretentious twat. You didn’t want that guy to be totally accessible and likeable to the audience; there had to be some sort of distance to it and not just be a cartoon, so I think he did a really good job of being that, that essence of that certain type of individual but also show some empathy for the audience to connect to as well, he’s just really clever. He’s just very aware of where he needs to be, he’s usually the most experienced person on the set. For me, being the first time with him, it was pretty fucking great to have someone hit the marks and beats every single time.
DC: You mentioned Stephen too who I also think was a great coup for the film. He’s one of most underrated genre actors in my opinion. Everyone has seen a movie he’s been in but no one knows his name or recognizes him in just a straight-up picture. Did he and Elijah have some great chemistry? I mean, some of the scenes they had were intense.
AT: That was their chemistry, it really was. Stephen is really stoic; he’s not one to overshare right away; he’s not someone you meet for the first time and then it all comes out right away. There was a barrier in the beginning, like when we first met it was like a starring contest in silence between us and you can lose yourself in those goddamn eyes. He doesn’t have to do much, really and he had fun with it and got looser as he went on, he really loved the experience. I think he sometimes turns up places as the bad guy, like a lot of those people do. It’s weird because he was super handsome and now he’s got this sort of craggy, sort of borderline villainous persona, but he was a handsome lead in some of the films that I saw that came out in the 70’s. He brings what, like sixty years of experience working, man and he’s the type of guy, like a Jack Palance type of guy. Before his big scene he went down and did fifty press ups; the dude was in shape, so he was an imposing presence, which was pretty cool. It helped man. You wanted that, you wanted the elements of Elijah’s stature versus McHattie so we could have these ominous sort of distinctions between them and when things get dark you feel like shit can really happen to them.
I’m just curious, and we can wrap it up with this, can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like being a filmmaker in New Zealand? You’re about as far away from Hollywood as you can possibly get, so how does a filmmaker go from New Zealand to some of the biggest international film festivals out there?
AT: A lot of Kiwi’s have bailed and jumped to Hollywood but the New Zealand landscape is like, you have Peter Jackson’s empire and the Hollywood films that come in and the actual film commission only has a small amount of money to make these films each year, really relatively small, like the size of one middle Hollywood movie in the entire industry. So filmmakers grow up during the film and then they go through the grant process, it’s like this thing where you put your cap out and say “Please, may I have a nickel?” and to me that’s what I love about the US: it’s fucking do or die, dog eat dog. There’s a passion and hunger for making shit over here that doesn’t exist usually because we’ve got decades long drip-feeding mentality in getting a little bit of government money. It’s like don’t wait in line, if you want to make something then you should be fucking making something, that’s no excuse.
DC: I think that’s good advice for anyone, no matter where you’re from. Now that Steven Soderbergh released a feature film made on an iPhone [Unsane], what’s your excuse?
AT: Exactly, and that’s what I’ve noticed; there’s these people who do the 48 thing that I do each year and that’s the only thing they do each year. Some of them have other gigs and it’s just a fun side project, but for the ones that are really interested, you should be doing that every weekend, if you want to hone your craft you’ve got to get out there and do it. I’m a bit bummed there’s not more independent stuff coming out; there’s a lot, and there’s only a very few things that pop up, like Mega Time Squad by Tim [van Dammen], which I thought was an amazing self-funded feature. I want to see about twenty of those every year coming out of New Zealand. It’s changing, thank god, like people are suddenly realizing yeah, maybe I shouldn’t wait in this big queue of people for a handout, I should just go and do some shit.
DC: One more thing I’d love to end this on: Just tell us as much as you can about Turbo Kid 2.
AT: There’s a script, and it’s pretty amazing. It’s had a few rewrites for the team to get it where they wanted it to go and now it’s the amazing laborious process of getting money for it, but it’s on the way. It was announced really early and the guys got really excited but we literally just got the new rewrite and it was fresh so it’s usually from that point, my math, it takes about a year to get everything signed, contracts done and then let’s get into it, so it still feels a ways away.
DC: The fan base just keeps growing. I mean, when we sell Dread Presents DVD’s at horror cons Turbo Kid sells out every time. We can never bring enough copies of that. It’s one of things where people say, “Oh, I saw this before it dropped off Netflix, now I’ve got to have it!”
AT: Yeah, it’s massive, and the fan base has been so great. They are insanely supportive and keep the fires burning during all the downtime, before something else comes out.
Come to Daddy arrives in US theaters tomorrow (February 7th).
Are you excited to check out Come to Daddy this weekend? What do you think of our exclusive conversation with Ant Timpson? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.